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1.  Integrative genomic and functional profiling of the pancreatic cancer genome 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:624.
Pancreatic cancer is a deadly disease with a five-year survival of less than 5%. A better understanding of the underlying biology may suggest novel therapeutic targets. Recent surveys of the pancreatic cancer genome have uncovered numerous new alterations; yet systematic functional characterization of candidate cancer genes has lagged behind. To address this challenge, here we have devised a highly-parallel RNA interference-based functional screen to evaluate many genomically-nominated candidate pancreatic cancer genes simultaneously.
For 185 candidate pancreatic cancer genes, selected from recurrently altered genomic loci, we performed a pooled shRNA library screen of cell growth/viability across 10 different cell lines. Knockdown-associated effects on cell growth were assessed by enrichment or depletion of shRNA hairpins, by hybridization to barcode microarrays. A novel analytical approach (COrrelated Phenotypes for On-Target Effects; COPOTE) was used to discern probable on-target knockdown, based on identifying different shRNAs targeting the same gene and displaying concordant phenotypes across cell lines. Knockdown data were integrated with genomic architecture and gene-expression profiles, and selected findings validated using individual shRNAs and/or independent siRNAs. The pooled shRNA library design delivered reproducible data. In all, COPOTE analysis identified 52 probable on-target gene-knockdowns. Knockdown of known oncogenes (KRAS, MYC, SMURF1 and CCNE1) and a tumor suppressor (CDKN2A) showed the expected contrasting effects on cell growth. In addition, the screen corroborated purported roles of PLEKHG2 and MED29 as 19q13 amplicon drivers. Most notably, the analysis also revealed novel possible oncogenic functions of nucleoporin NUP153 (ostensibly by modulating TGFβ signaling) and Kruppel-like transcription factor KLF5 in pancreatic cancer.
By integrating physical and functional genomic data, we were able to simultaneously evaluate many candidate pancreatic cancer genes. Our findings uncover new facets of pancreatic cancer biology, with possible therapeutic implications. More broadly, our study provides a general strategy for the efficient characterization of candidate genes emerging from cancer genome studies.
PMCID: PMC3848637  PMID: 24041470
Pancreatic cancer; Functional genomics; RNAi screen; shRNA screen; NUP153; KLF5
2.  Integrative Bioinformatics Links HNF1B with Clear Cell Carcinoma and Tumor-Associated Thrombosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e74562.
Clear cell carcinoma (CCC) is a histologically distinct carcinoma subtype that arises in several organ systems and is marked by cytoplasmic clearing, attributed to abundant intracellular glycogen. Previously, transcription factor hepatocyte nuclear factor 1-beta (HNF1B) was identified as a biomarker of ovarian CCC. Here, we set out to explore more broadly the relation between HNF1B and carcinomas with clear cell histology. HNF1B expression, evaluated by immunohistochemistry, was significantly associated with clear cell histology across diverse gynecologic and renal carcinomas (P<0.001), as was hypomethylation of the HNF1B promoter (P<0.001). From microarray analysis, an empirically-derived HNF1B signature was significantly enriched for computationally-predicted targets (with HNF1 binding sites) (P<0.03), as well as genes associated with glycogen metabolism, including glucose-6-phophatase, and strikingly the blood clotting cascade, including fibrinogen, prothrombin and factor XIII. Enrichment of the clotting cascade was also evident in microarray data from ovarian CCC versus other histotypes (P<0.01), and HNF1B-associated prothrombin expression was verified by immunohistochemistry (P = 0.015). Finally, among gynecologic carcinomas with cytoplasmic clearing, HNF1B immunostaining was linked to a 3.0-fold increased risk of clinically-significant venous thrombosis (P = 0.043), and with a 2.3-fold increased risk (P = 0.011) in a combined gynecologic and renal carcinoma cohort. Our results define HNF1B as a broad marker of clear cell phenotype, and support a mechanistic link to glycogen accumulation and thrombosis, possibly reflecting (for gynecologic CCC) derivation from secretory endometrium. Our findings also implicate a novel mechanism of tumor-associated thrombosis (a major cause of cancer mortality), based on the direct production of clotting factors by cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC3767734  PMID: 24040285
3.  Evidence That Personal Genome Testing Enhances Student Learning in a Course on Genomics and Personalized Medicine 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68853.
An emerging debate in academic medical centers is not about the need for providing trainees with fundamental education on genomics, but rather the most effective educational models that should be deployed. At Stanford School of Medicine, a novel hands-on genomics course was developed in 2010 that provided students the option to undergo personal genome testing as part of the course curriculum. We hypothesized that use of personal genome testing in the classroom would enhance the learning experience of students. No data currently exist on how such methods impact student learning; thus, we surveyed students before and after the course to determine its impact. We analyzed responses using paired statistics from the 31 medical and graduate students who completed both pre-course and post-course surveys. Participants were stratified by those who did (N = 23) or did not (N = 8) undergo personal genome testing. In reflecting on the experience, 83% of students who underwent testing stated that they were pleased with their decision compared to 12.5% of students who decided against testing (P = 0.00058). Seventy percent of those who underwent personal genome testing self-reported a better understanding of human genetics on the basis of having undergone testing. Further, students who underwent personal genome testing demonstrated an average 31% increase in pre- to post-course scores on knowledge questions (P = 3.5×10−6); this was significantly higher (P = 0.003) than students who did not undergo testing, who showed a non-significant improvement. Undergoing personal genome testing and using personal genotype data in the classroom enhanced students' self-reported and assessed knowledge of genomics, and did not appear to cause significant anxiety. At least for self-selected students, the incorporation of personal genome testing can be an effective educational tool to teach important concepts of clinical genomic testing.
PMCID: PMC3720862  PMID: 23935898
4.  Personalized medicine: hope or hype? 
European Heart Journal  2012;33(13):1564-1570.
Medicine has always been personalized. For years, physicians have incorporated environmental, behavioural, and genetic factors that affect disease and drug response into patient management decisions. However, until recently, the ‘genetic’ data took the form of family history and self-reported race/ethnicity. As genome sequencing declines in cost, the availability of specific genomic information will no longer be limiting. Rather, our ability to parse these data and our decision whether to use it will become primary. As our understanding of genetic association with drug responses and diseases continues to improve, clinically useful genetic tests may emerge to improve upon our previous methods of assessing genetic risks. Indeed, genetic tests for monogenic disorders have already proven useful. Such changes may usher in a new era of personalized medicine. In this review, we will discuss the utility and limitations of personal genomic data in three domains: pharmacogenomics, assessment of genetic predispositions for common diseases, and identification of rare disease-causing genetic variants.
PMCID: PMC3388016  PMID: 22659199
Pharmacogenomics; Common disease risk assessment; Rare genetic variant discovery; Personalized medicine; Genomic medicine
5.  Personal genome testing in medical education: student experiences with genotyping in the classroom 
Genome Medicine  2013;5(3):24.
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) personal genotyping services are beginning to be adopted by educational institutions as pedagogical tools for learning about human genetics. However, there is little known about student reactions to such testing. This study investigated student experiences and attitudes towards DTC personal genome testing.
Individual interviews were conducted with students who chose to undergo personal genotyping in the context of an elective genetics course. Ten medical and graduate students were interviewed before genotyping occurred, and at 2 weeks and 6 months after receiving their genotype results. Qualitative analysis of interview transcripts assessed the expectations and experiences of students who underwent personal genotyping, how they interpreted and applied their results; how the testing affected the quality of their learning during the course, and what were their perceived needs for support.
Students stated that personal genotyping enhanced their engagement with the course content. Although students expressed skepticism over the clinical utility of some test results, they expressed significant enthusiasm immediately after receiving their personal genetic analysis, and were particularly interested in results such as drug response and carrier testing. However, few reported making behavioral changes or following up on specific results through a healthcare provider. Students did not report utilizing genetic counseling, despite feeling strongly that the 'general public' would need these services. In follow-up interviews, students exhibited poor recall on details of the consent and biobanking agreements, but expressed little regret over their decision to undergo genotyping. Students reported mining their raw genetic data, and conveyed a need for further consultation support in their exploration of genetic variants.
Personal genotyping may improve students' self-reported motivation and engagement with course material. However, consultative support that is different from traditional genetic counseling will be necessary to support students. Before incorporating personal genotyping into coursework, institutions should lead multi-disciplinary discussion to anticipate issues and incorporate teaching mechanisms that engage the ethical, legal, and social implications of personal genotyping, including addressing those found in this study, to go beyond what is offered by commercial providers.
PMCID: PMC3706781  PMID: 23510111
6.  Genomic and functional analysis identifies CRKL as an oncogene amplified in lung cancer 
Oncogene  2009;29(10):1421-1430.
DNA amplifications, leading to the overexpression of oncogenes, are a cardinal feature of lung cancer and directly contribute to its pathogenesis. To uncover novel such alterations, we performed an array-based comparative genomic hybridization survey of 128 non-small cell lung cancer cell lines and tumors. Prominent among our findings, we identified recurrent high-level amplification at cytoband 22q11.21 in 3% of lung cancer specimens, with another 11% of specimens exhibiting low-level gain spanning that locus. The 22q11.21 amplicon core contained eight named genes, only four of which were overexpressed (by transcript profiling) when amplified. Among these, CRKL encodes an adaptor protein functioning in signal transduction, best known as a substrate of the BCR-ABL kinase in chronic myelogenous leukemia. RNA interference-mediated knockdown of CRKL in lung cancer cell lines with (but not without) amplification led to significantly decreased cell proliferation, cell-cycle progression, cell survival, and cell motility and invasion. In addition, overexpression of CRKL in immortalized human bronchial epithelial cells led to EGF-independent cell growth. Our findings indicate that amplification and resultant overexpression of CRKL contributes to diverse oncogenic phenotypes in lung cancer, with implications for targeted therapy, and highlighting a role of adapter proteins as primary genetic drivers of tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC3320568  PMID: 19966867
CRKL; lung cancer; DNA amplification; genomic profiling; adapter protein
7.  Genomic instability in breast cancer: pathogenesis and clinical implications 
Molecular oncology  2010;4(3):255-266.
Breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease, appreciable by molecular markers, gene expression profiles, and most recently, patterns of genomic alteration. In particular, genomic profiling has revealed three distinct patterns of DNA copy number alteration: a “simple” type with few gains or losses of whole chromosome arms, an “amplifier” type with focal high-level DNA amplifications, and a “complex” type marked by numerous low-amplitude changes and copy-number transitions. The three patterns are associated with distinct gene-expression subtypes, and preferentially target different loci in the genome (implicating distinct cancer genes). Moreover, the different patterns of alteration imply distinct underlying mechanisms of genomic instability. The amplifier pattern may arise from transient telomere dysfunction, although new data suggest ongoing “amplifier” instability. The complex pattern shows similarity to breast cancers with germline BRCA1 mutation, which also exhibit “basal-like” expression profiles and complex-pattern genomes, implicating a possible defect in BRCA1-associated repair of DNA double-strand breaks. As such, targeting presumptive DNA repair defects represents a promising area of clinical investigation. Future studies should clarify the pathogenesis of breast cancers with amplifier and complex pattern genomes, and will likely identify new therapeutic opportunities.
PMCID: PMC2904860  PMID: 20434415
Breast cancer; genomic instability; DNA amplification; DNA repair defect; basal-like; BRCA1
8.  A Tri-Marker Proliferation Index Predicts Biochemical Recurrence after Surgery for Prostate Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20293.
Prostate cancer exhibits tremendous variability in clinical behavior, ranging from indolent to lethal disease. Better prognostic markers are needed to stratify patients for appropriately aggressive therapy. By expression profiling, we can identify a proliferation signature variably expressed in prostate cancers. Here, we asked whether one or more tissue biomarkers might capture that information, and provide prognostic utility. We assayed three proliferation signature genes: MKI67 (Ki-67; also a classic proliferation biomarker), TOP2A (DNA topoisomerase II, alpha), and E2F1 (E2F transcription factor 1). Immunohistochemical staining was evaluable on 139 radical prostatectomy cases (in tissue microarray format), with a median clinical follow-up of eight years. Each of the three proliferation markers was by itself prognostic. Notably, combining the three markers together as a “proliferation index” (0 or 1, vs. 2 or 3 positive markers) provided superior prognostic performance (hazard ratio = 2.6 (95% CI: 1.4–4.9); P = 0.001). In a multivariate analysis that included preoperative serum prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels, Gleason grade and pathologic tumor stage, the composite proliferation index remained a significant predictor (P = 0.005). Analysis of receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) curves confirmed the improved prognostication afforded by incorporating the proliferation index (compared to the clinicopathologic data alone). Our findings highlight the potential value of a multi-gene signature-based diagnostic, and define a tri-marker proliferation index with possible utility for improved prognostication and treatment stratification in prostate cancer.
PMCID: PMC3100337  PMID: 21629784
9.  Comparative analyses of chromosome alterations in soft-tissue metastases within and across patients with castration-resistant prostate cancer 
Cancer research  2009;69(19):7793-7802.
Androgen deprivation is the mainstay of therapy for progressive prostate cancer. Despite initial and dramatic tumor inhibition, most men eventually fail therapy and die of metastatic castration-resistant (CR) disease. Here, we characterize the profound degree of genomic alteration found in CR tumors using array CGH, gene expression arrays, and FISH. By cluster analysis, we show that the similarity of the genomic profiles from primary and metastatic tumors is driven by the patient. Using data adjusted for this similarity, we identify numerous high-frequency alterations in the CR tumors, such as 8p loss and chromosome 7 and 8q gain. By integrating array CGH and expression array data, we reveal genes whose correlated values suggest they are relevant to prostate cancer biology. We find alterations that are significantly associated with the metastases of specific organ sites, and others with CR tumors versus the tumors of patients with localized prostate cancer not treated with androgen deprivation. Within the high-frequency sites of loss in CR metastases, we find an over-representation of genes involved in cellular lipid metabolism, including PTEN. Finally, using FISH we verify the presence of a gene fusion between TMPRSS2 and ERG suggested by chromosome-21 deletions detected by array CGH. We find the fusion in 54% of our CR tumors, and 81% of the fusion-positive tumors contain cells with multiple copies of the fusion. Our investigation lays the foundation for a better understanding of and possible therapeutic targets for CR disease, the poorly responsive and final stage of prostate cancer.
PMCID: PMC2771763  PMID: 19773449
Prostate cancer; castration-resistant metastases; metastatic prostate cancer; array CGH; expression; genomic alterations; TMPRSS2-ERG fusion
10.  Molecular Inversion Probe Analysis of Gene Copy Alterations Reveals Distinct Categories of Colorectal Carcinoma 
Cancer research  2006;66(16):7910-7919.
Genomic instability is a major feature of neoplastic development in colorectal carcinoma and other cancers. Specific genomic instability events, such as deletions in chromosomes and other alterations in gene copy number, have potential utility as biologically relevant prognostic biomarkers. For example, genomic deletions on chromosome arm 18q are an indicator of colorectal carcinoma behavior and potentially useful as a prognostic indicator. Adapting a novel genomic technology called molecular inversion probes which can determine gene copy alterations, such as genomic deletions, we designed a set of probes to interrogate several hundred individual exons of >200 cancer genes with an overall distribution covering all chromosome arms. In addition, >100 probes were designed in close proximity of microsatellite markers on chromosome arm 18q. We analyzed a set of colorectal carcinoma cell lines and primary colorectal tumor samples for gene copy alterations and deletion mutations in exons. Based on clustering analysis, we distinguished the different categories of genomic instability among the colorectal cancer cell lines. Our analysis of primary tumors uncovered several distinct categories of colorectal carcinoma, each with specific patterns of 18q deletions and deletion mutations in specific genes. This finding has potential clinical ramifications given the application of 18q loss of heterozygosity events as a potential indicator for adjuvant treatment in stage II colorectal carcinoma.
PMCID: PMC2943417  PMID: 16912164
12.  DR-Integrator: a new analytic tool for integrating DNA copy number and gene expression data 
Bioinformatics  2009;26(3):414-416.
Summary: DNA copy number alterations (CNA) frequently underlie gene expression changes by increasing or decreasing gene dosage. However, only a subset of genes with altered dosage exhibit concordant changes in gene expression. This subset is likely to be enriched for oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, and can be identified by integrating these two layers of genome-scale data. We introduce DNA/RNA-Integrator (DR-Integrator), a statistical software tool to perform integrative analyses on paired DNA copy number and gene expression data. DR-Integrator identifies genes with significant correlations between DNA copy number and gene expression, and implements a supervised analysis that captures genes with significant alterations in both DNA copy number and gene expression between two sample classes.
Availability: DR-Integrator is freely available for non-commercial use from the Pollack Lab at and can be downloaded as a plug-in application to Microsoft Excel and as a package for the R statistical computing environment. The R package is available under the name ‘DRI’ at An example analysis using DR-Integrator is included as supplemental material.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC2815664  PMID: 20031972
13.  The Dawning Era of Personalized Medicine Exposes a Gap in Medical Education 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(8):e1000138.
Medical student Keyan Salari argues that it is crucial that medical students be trained to use and interpret patients' genetic information appropriately and responsibly.
PMCID: PMC2719811  PMID: 19707267
14.  Molecular Profiling of Breast Cancer Cell Lines Defines Relevant Tumor Models and Provides a Resource for Cancer Gene Discovery 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(7):e6146.
Breast cancer cell lines have been used widely to investigate breast cancer pathobiology and new therapies. Breast cancer is a molecularly heterogeneous disease, and it is important to understand how well and which cell lines best model that diversity. In particular, microarray studies have identified molecular subtypes–luminal A, luminal B, ERBB2-associated, basal-like and normal-like–with characteristic gene-expression patterns and underlying DNA copy number alterations (CNAs). Here, we studied a collection of breast cancer cell lines to catalog molecular profiles and to assess their relation to breast cancer subtypes.
Whole-genome DNA microarrays were used to profile gene expression and CNAs in a collection of 52 widely-used breast cancer cell lines, and comparisons were made to existing profiles of primary breast tumors. Hierarchical clustering was used to identify gene-expression subtypes, and Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) to discover biological features of those subtypes. Genomic and transcriptional profiles were integrated to discover within high-amplitude CNAs candidate cancer genes with coordinately altered gene copy number and expression.
Transcriptional profiling of breast cancer cell lines identified one luminal and two basal-like (A and B) subtypes. Luminal lines displayed an estrogen receptor (ER) signature and resembled luminal-A/B tumors, basal-A lines were associated with ETS-pathway and BRCA1 signatures and resembled basal-like tumors, and basal-B lines displayed mesenchymal and stem/progenitor-cell characteristics. Compared to tumors, cell lines exhibited similar patterns of CNA, but an overall higher complexity of CNA (genetically simple luminal-A tumors were not represented), and only partial conservation of subtype-specific CNAs. We identified 80 high-level DNA amplifications and 13 multi-copy deletions, and the resident genes with concomitantly altered gene-expression, highlighting known and novel candidate breast cancer genes.
Overall, breast cancer cell lines were genetically more complex than tumors, but retained expression patterns with relevance to the luminal-basal subtype distinction. The compendium of molecular profiles defines cell lines suitable for investigations of subtype-specific pathobiology, cancer stem cell biology, biomarkers and therapies, and provides a resource for discovery of new breast cancer genes.
PMCID: PMC2702084  PMID: 19582160
15.  Genomic Profiling Identifies GATA6 as a Candidate Oncogene Amplified in Pancreatobiliary Cancer 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(5):e1000081.
Pancreatobiliary cancers have among the highest mortality rates of any cancer type. Discovering the full spectrum of molecular genetic alterations may suggest new avenues for therapy. To catalogue genomic alterations, we carried out array-based genomic profiling of 31 exocrine pancreatic cancers and 6 distal bile duct cancers, expanded as xenografts to enrich the tumor cell fraction. We identified numerous focal DNA amplifications and deletions, including in 19% of pancreatobiliary cases gain at cytoband 18q11.2, a locus uncommonly amplified in other tumor types. The smallest shared amplification at 18q11.2 included GATA6, a transcriptional regulator previously linked to normal pancreas development. When amplified, GATA6 was overexpressed at both the mRNA and protein levels, and strong immunostaining was observed in 25 of 54 (46%) primary pancreatic cancers compared to 0 of 33 normal pancreas specimens surveyed. GATA6 expression in xenografts was associated with specific microarray gene-expression patterns, enriched for GATA binding sites and mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation activity. siRNA mediated knockdown of GATA6 in pancreatic cancer cell lines with amplification led to reduced cell proliferation, cell cycle progression, and colony formation. Our findings indicate that GATA6 amplification and overexpression contribute to the oncogenic phenotypes of pancreatic cancer cells, and identify GATA6 as a candidate lineage-specific oncogene in pancreatobiliary cancer, with implications for novel treatment strategies.
Author Summary
Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease, having among the lowest survival rates of any cancer. A better understanding of the molecular basis of pancreatic cancer may lead to improved rationale therapies. We report here the discovery of amplification (i.e. extra copies) of the GATA6 gene in many human pancreatic cancers. GATA6 is a regulator of gene expression and functions in the development of the normal pancreas. Our findings indicate that its amplification and aberrant overexpression contribute to pancreatic cancer development. GATA6 joins a growing list of cancer genes with key roles in normal human development but pathogenic roles in cancer when aberrantly expressed. Our discovery of GATA6 amplification provides a new foothold into understanding the pathogenic mechanisms underlying pancreatic cancer, and suggests new strategies for therapy by targeting GATA6 or the genes it regulates.
PMCID: PMC2413204  PMID: 18535672

Results 1-15 (15)